Review: Runner Runner
PLOT: After losing his life savings playing online poker, Princeton student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) flies to Costa Rica to confront online gaming entrepreneur Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) with proof that his games are crooked. Rather than fly off-the-handle, Ivan offers Richie a job, making him his new number two, and exposing him to a jet-set lifestyle beyond his wildest dreams. But, when an FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) starts poking around Ivans business, Richie starts to realize that hes in over his head.
REVIEW: If that plot sounds a little familiar, thats only because it is. Halfway through RUNNER RUNNER, when I was predicting all the obvious plot twists, and knew exactly where it was going from one scene to another, I started feeling like I had seen this movie before. Sure enough I had- a couple of times actually. Most recently, it was the god-awful PARANOIA, but the broke young guy being taken in by a rich older guy who's possibly sinister premise has been done to death, ever since WALL STREET set the mold in 1987. Since then, none of its clones have measured up. While RUNNER RUNNER is certainly better than PARANOIA (what isnt?), despite the online gaming twist, and the sexy scenery (Puerto Rico doubling for Costa Rica) its too familiar, and terribly boring.
Youd think that given the cast and the talent involved, RUNNER RUNNER would have turned out a whole lot better. Director Brad Furmans last movie, THE LINCOLN LAWYER was pretty good, and the writers, Brian Koppelman and David Levien wrote the great ROUNDERS (along with the not-so-great RUNAWAY JURY, and WALKING TALL remake). Pair them up with a premise exposing the world of online gambling, and a cool cast, and you should have had a solid movie. Sadly, RUNNER RUNNER just never works, or even comes close actually.
If I had to pinpoint the reason, I would probably say Justin Timberlake is my main beef with the movie. I like the guy. As a performer hes great, and Ive enjoyed him is some of his other roles. In a supporting part, such as THE SOCIAL NETWORK, hes fine. Hes also good in comedy. But as a leading man, hes still a lightweight. Look at a guy like Matt Damon in ROUNDERS and then compare him to Timberlake here. Theres no question of whos better, and while Timberlake is trying, hes just not that interesting. Hes not an all-out disaster like Liam Hemsworth in PARANOIA, but hes still boring and hard to root for. Timberlake may yet evolve into a good leading man, but while he has undeniable charm, he simply needs more than that here and comes up short.
Ben Affleck doesnt fare much better. Hes in the midst of one of the most impressive comebacks of the last decade, but this feels like a leftover from his pre- GONE BABY GONE days. It feels like a paycheck part, and while hes initially intriguing as this billionaire entrepreneur in exile, when he inevitably reveals his true colors, hes hammy. Hes capable of being so much better, but then again, the part is so thinly written thats its hard to lay too much blame at his feet. As the love interest, Gemma Arterton looks great, but even more so than Affleck, she has nothing to do as shes saddled with a part thats two dimensional to the extreme. Anthony Mackie fares even worse, in the tacked-on FBI agent role which only exists to wrap things up neatly in a little bow by fade-out.
Im tempted to at least give RUNNER RUNNER some credit by having an R-rating, but even this is wasted. I remember reading about how Furman wanted to make a sexy, steamy thriller, but theres no heat here, or excitement. Any good episode of RAY DONOVAN or any other good cable drama soundly trounces this when it comes to intrigue.
I really have very little to say about RUNNER RUNNER thats good, except the fact that at ninety minutes, its never painful to sit through. Its all over fast (too fast, with the abrupt conclusion), but even as a ninety-minute ride, I cant really recommend this. Its a bargain-basement thriller thats wholly unoriginal, and never really worth watching. Skip it.
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